Fight on, David Webb

June 10, 2020 10:19
David Webb is confronting the health issue with the same vigor and levelheadedness that he displays in battling financial shenanigans. Photo: Reuters

Many were shocked when corporate governance champion David Webb revealed on Monday that he’s fighting the Big C, but it only shows that he is living up to his advocacy for transparency, even when it comes to his health.

And like the true fighter that he is, Webb is confronting the health issue with the same vigor and levelheadedness that he displays in battling financial shenanigans.

In his latest post on his widely read, he tells readers: “Like every battle I've fought for corporate and economic governance in HK, I will fight this with full vigor, and hope to beat it for several years as new treatments emerge, staying at least one step ahead.

“I still have a lot to live for, including a beloved, supportive wife and our two wonderful children whom I hope to see graduate and start their adult lives.”

As in the case of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who survived prostate cancer eight years ago, fans hope and pray that Webb will live well past 2047, if not forever, and continue to dispense his knowledge and wisdom for the benefit of Hong Kong.

You got to love the guy. A math whiz and former investment banker, Webb has been using his talent and skills to plod through the thicket of financial intricacies and obfuscation to expose how a privileged few are sucking the blood of ordinary shareholders.

As such, he has contributed much to maintaining the status of Hong Kong as a truly international financial center.

The same searing analysis and critical thinking he used in dissecting Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s now-scrapped extradition bill, and while believing that her departure from office was inevitable, he realized that Beijing would continue to interfere in the affairs of Hong Kong, despite the much-vaunted “one country, two systems” principle.

All his writings about the city’s social and political developments – from showing how the electoral system is rigged in favor of pro-establishment candidates to debunking the arguments of officials who refused to make public the videos on the police attack on passengers at the MTR Prince Edward Station – demonstrate that Webb is a democrat at heart.

His insights have provided clarity to the muddled and muddling deluge of information that we get from mainstream media in these turbulent times.

Webb has also developed a free database that allows anyone to access information about listed companies and their directors, as well as other personalities in the local political world. The database is widely used by journalists and analysts over the past two decades, and it has been one of my most trusted sources of information.

In his “special message,” Webb reckons that he will be spending less time on his writings and investigations into corporate malfeasances. “But I will continue to write and speak out on the big issues where I feel it can make a difference, so don’t count me out yet!”

He continues: “The 22-year archive of content on governmental and regulatory policy errors will serve its purpose -- fellow journalists and campaigners should dig deep and often, because most of the issues are unresolved.“

He hopes his free database would outlive him, and that’s why he’s looking for a university faculty or non-profit organization to maintain and update it for the public.

Webb has been supportive of financial journalists like me. He once shared with me a beta version of the computer program he wrote for his database. He also sometimes allowed me and other journos to act as his proxies to annual general meetings of companies where he was a shareholder.

His incisive mind and investigative zeal are in full display in his expose of the Enigma Network, a complex web of cross-shareholdings of about 50 small-cap listed companies, which prompted the Securities and Futures Commission and the Independent Commission Against Corruption to look into possible financial malfeasance by a few market makers.

Webb served on the Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing from 2003 to 2008, and his presence in its board meetings provided much zest and substance to the discussions of the listed exchange monopoly, and paved the way for greater transparency in the otherwise opaque corporate culture of many Chinese-dominated firms.

As a stock investor, his fault may be in his small-cap stock approach, which seems to have prevented him from taking advantage of the tremendous opportunities presented by mainland stocks.

Of course, he made a lot in the stock markets, but he also didn’t fare well with some plays. But that’s the way with stocks: win some, lose some.

Says he: “For those who follow my disclosed long-term investments in HK-listed small-caps, don't worry. I will continue to manage my own portfolio for as long as I am able, and when the time comes I, or if the clock stops prematurely, my estate, will hand it over to professional asset managers.

“My illness means nothing in terms of my propensity to invest or divest -- indeed many of these stocks are cheaper on fundamentals than they have been in a decade.”

All in all, we hope and pray for his fast recovery. We certainly need people like him to look after small investors like us, and keep our faith in the city’s financial system

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EJ Insight writer